The unexpected heatwave this past Sunday might have tempted you to buy an ice cream cone (or two). Had you stuffed your sweet treat in your pocket at some point, you would’ve unknowingly committed a crime. We agree: it sounds absurd — but it’s New York City law.
Many of these regulations are referred to as “blue laws,” a term that was coined to describe rules that made church attendance mandatory, and prohibited secular activities on Sundays. According to an enduring myth, the laws were so called because they were believed to be printed on blue paper or bound in books with blue covers. (However, the more probable explanation derives from the 18th-century usage of the word “blue” meaning “rigidly moral.”)
Find out what other laws you may be breaking with our roundup of the strangest New York City and state laws:
11. It is illegal in New York State to transport an ice cream cone in one’s pocket on a Sunday
The origin behind this law is still murky, but certainly worth mentioning: once upon a time, someone reportedly strolled through Manhattan with an ice cream cone in his pocket, causing “untold mischief.” What kind of mischief is not clearly stated — and trust us, we’ve combed through the web to find the answer — but the act was apparently enough to enact regulation. Interestingly enough, CraveOnline.com claims that it gave birth to the ice cream sundae, which was traditionally sold on Sundays as a way to bypass the law.
10. It is illegal to congregate in a group of two or more in any public place while each wearing a mask that disguises identity
New York Penal Law 240.35(4) prohibits two or more people wearing masks or any face covering from congregating in a public place. The regulation has existed since 1845, and was developed in response to the lowering of wheat prices. At the time, tenant farmers would cover their faces with masks and dress up as “Indians” to attack the police. The exception to this rule, according to Slate, are masquerades and other events like Halloween.
9. In Sag Harbor, New York, it is illegal to disrobe in the car
In order to maintain “Peace and Good Order” — as listed under Chapter 121 of the Village of North Haven, Suffolk County Administrative Legislation — it is illegal for any person to disrobe in the public or in any automobile/wagon on the streets. EIt’s one of many bizarre Long Island laws, among other head-scratchers like the rule that prohibits the release of 25 or more helium balloons within a 24-hour period.
8. In Beacon, New York it’s illegal to own or operate a pinball machine
Pinball is a classic game you’ll find in many New York City arcades, but it’s illegal to operate such a machine sixty miles north in Beacon, New York. Arcades are also banned — even the vintage kind from the ’50s and ’60s — and unlawful citizens may be subjected to jail time or a fine of $1,000 per day for breaking this rule.
Believe it or not, Beacon isn’t the only city to have adopted this regulation. The game was prohibited in the early 1940’s to the mid ’70s in many big cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. CNN reports that lawmakers believed pinball was a “mafia-run racket” and essentially a waste of time for youth.
7. Though it is legal for a woman to go topless in New York City, it’s illegal if used for business purposes
It’s important to note that the majority of U.S. states are top free, but there’s some grey area regarding this law in New York State, which ruled in 1992 that breast exposure violates the law when it happens in a commercial context.
As attorney Lisa Bloom told CNN, “Just so long as it’s not sexualized and as long as it’s not for a commercial purpose, it is legal for a woman to be topless in New York.” (Hence, the controversy surrounding Times Square’s desnudas.)
6. It is illegal in New York City to use a cellular phone in indoor theaters
Like many of the laws on this list, this next one usually goes unenforced. The City Council, after overriding Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto, passed the legislation in 2003. It was originally proposed by theater owners in order to quell the concerns of their patrons. Apparently, there’s a $50 fine for offenders, which might explain why theaters constantly remind us of theater etiquette before a show.
5. It is illegal in New York to keep more than $10 you find in the street
Don’t get your hopes up on the off chance you find some money on the street: turns out, you’re legally required to deposit the cash at a police station within 10 days of finding $10 or more. It’s all outlined in Section 10-106 of the city’s Administrative Code, and offenders can receive jail time (for up to a year) or a lofty fine of $1,000 (or both).
4. It is illegal in New York City to have a puppet show in your window
According to a 2008 New York Times article, puppets are also on the blacklist for law enforcers. Despite the city’s penchant for theater, it’s illegal for a person to stage puppet performances, ballets, dances or other forms of entertainment “from any window or open space of any house, or building.”
3. It is illegal to fly a parachute over New York City
The same New York Times article also notes that parachuting over New York City, ”except in the event of imminent danger or while under official orders of any branch of the military service,” is strictly prohibited.
There’s understandable logic behind this regulation given the sheer amount of urban explorers in the city — many of whom like to scale buildings. (Remember what happened to the base jumper who head dove off the top of 1 World Trade Center?)
2. In New York City, dancing in cabarets and public halls are prohibited without a license
We recently learned about the “Cabaret Law,” a New York City rule established in 1926 that prohibits dancing in cabarets and public halls without a special license. When it was originally written, the law was intended to address the burgeoning jazz scene with strict curfews and other rules. It later came to affect folk clubs in Greenwich Village and popular discotheques.
In recent years, various attempts to repeal the law have failed. However, it’s now on the chopping block again, as bill No. 1652 is currently being pushed through City Hall.
1. A barber in New York City can earn a $5 fine and a misdemeanor charge for giving haircuts on Sunday
In New York City, another blue law dictates that giving hair cuts or shaves on Sunday — what is regarded by the state’s General Business Law as “the first day of the week — can result in a $5 fine and a misdemeanor charge. While this law is quite antiquated — and frankly not enforced in New York City — it seems to still be in effect in other cities like Houma, Louisiana.
Bonus: New Jersey Ban on Buying Electronics on Sunday
On Sundays in Bergen County, NJ, a blue law prohibits you from buying electronics (seen at Mitsuwa)
Some of the nation’s few remaining “blue laws” are upheld in Bergen County, New Jersey, right across the Hudson River from New York.
Since the 1950’s, it’s been forbidden to buy electronics, clothing, or furniture in Bergen County on Sundays. In Paramus, a town which contains three of the county’s four shopping malls, laws prohibit all businesses from running, excluding grocery stores, restaurants, and certain entertainment venues.
Proponents of the laws, which include many Paramus residents, argue that the laws keep car traffic low on Sundays and allow for retail workers to take the day off. And it seems like they have the government’s support: county officials adamantly opposed Governor Christie’s unrealized proposal to repeal the laws in 2010.